It's more than just a game

They arrive separately and head straight to the storage area - not to change into jerseys, but to get into competition wheelchairs.

They are the 10 players of the Singapore wheelchair basketball team, who have stepped up their training for the 8th ASEAN Para Games (APG) next month.

These men are not professional athletes, and have to take time off from work to train and compete.

For Mr Edwin Khoo, 59, the oldest player in the team, who came out of retirement to play, "it is more than participation and medals".

The APG on home ground "is an opportunity to expose the sport to the wider audience and to generate more interest", said Mr Khoo.

He added: "If the senior players had not come together this time, we would not have a team."

As much as they love the game, the senior players know they have to find people to replace them.

With an average age of 52, and the youngest player, captain Choo Poh Choon, at age 34, the team is in need of young blood. For most of the older players, this APG may be their last tournament, said Mr Choo.

The team did manage to rope in Mr Ng Chong Ping, 42. A work accident three years ago left him paralysed from the waist down, and he picked up wheelchair basketball.

His mother died a year after he was injured. Life seems to have dealt him a bad hand, and he still does not have the courage to fetch his daughter, eight, from school for fear that her friends will make fun of her.

But she is his main source of motivation, and wheelchair basketball gives him a goal in life.

As one of the newest players, Mr Ng knows he needs to improve fast, and he puts in extra training at 7am, when the public court is not in use.

For some of them, wheelchair basketball has given them more than they asked for. Mr Khoo met his wife during an overseas tournament in 1982. He said: "It has not given me a gold medal, but a wife."

After playing the sport for 25 years, Mr Khoo believes that whatever lessons gained on the court apply to life. "When we are not restricted by our physical condition (on the court), we feel the freedom and independence that is needed to change our outlook on life, and a lot of things become possible, he said.

Team captain Mr Choo, who was injured while serving in the army, attributes his ability to move on to the motivation and advice of his team-mates.

He said: "From them, I learnt the trick of going up an escalator on a wheelchair and how to live my life as a wheelchair user."

He added: "I owe my life to them, and they are the unsung heroes who deserve to be cheered."

Coach Brigitte Lichtenberger thinks there is a general perception that the sport is dangerous, making it difficult to attract new players. She said:

"Falling is part of life. It is when one becomes fearless about falling, then one can begin to have a life."

For now, the team have only one goal in mind at the APG - to create awareness of the sport in the hope of attracting players. Winning a medal will be a bonus.

This article was first published on November 26, 2015.
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